Importance Of Observing Binoculars

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Observing Galaxies with Binoculars in the Spring by Vincent S. Foster
Although galaxies are the most distant objects in the universe, many of them can be observed with simple binoculars. For example, M81 and M82, which are 12 million light years away, can be readily observed in 10x50 binoculars. While most galaxies are telescope objects, there are over 75 galaxies with magnitudes brighter than 10, which are well within binocular range. Nearly all can be observed in the spring.
Although the views of these galaxies won’t compare to those in a large Dobsonian telescope, binoculars are much more portable and easier to use. It’s also amazing to consider that you are viewing gigantic objects millions of light years away with a small instrument held in the palm of your hand.
Probably the best size binoculars to use for galaxy hunting are those with 10x magnification and 50mm diameter lenses. These are usually not overly heavy for most people to hand-hold and provide a 5mm exit pupil that will be appropriate for most observers when age and observing site darkness are taken into account. Look for binoculars with at least 14mm of eye relief if you must wear eyeglasses while observing.
There are several techniques you should use to enhance your chances of viewing detail in the galaxies you will observe with binoculars. First, allow at least 30 minutes for your eyes to adapt to the darkness. Next, find a site with dark skies. Any form of light pollution, be it natural moonlight or artificial city lights, will destroy your chances of spotting galaxies. Spring galaxy season makes field trips to dark sky sites a necessity. Your local astronomy club is a wonderful resource. Chances are that they have scouted out the darkest sites in your region...

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... prominent dark lane encircling the galaxy along the arms’ outer circumference.
M59 and M60 may be found by continuing another two degrees to southeast from M58. M59 features a 5’x3’ oval disk which will require averted vision to be spotted at magnitude 9.8. M60 appears a full magnitude brighter and a bit larger than M59.
If you examine a star atlas you will notice that there is something of a “milky way” of galaxies that runs through the Ursa Major, Canes Venatici, Coma Berenices, Leo and western Virgo. The density of galaxies falls off quickly as you move away from this axis. Some galaxies lie in eastern Leo, Leo Minor and around the stars 109 and 110 Virginis, but relatively few galaxies are in the other spring constellations.

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Vincent S. Foster
37 Brigantine Blvd.
Waretown, NJ 08758
Tel: 609-488-5898

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